An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Celestial Charade

George and I attended a funeral for Cousin Rod last week. Family members, the bishop, and stake president all spoke in praise of Rod’s life—speculating about the reunions he was enjoying with departed loved ones. Funeral speakers knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rod had merely crossed over into another, better world.

George’s 76-year-old cousin, Jim, was in a wheelchair, a towel covering his catheter bag. Recovery from his recent bladder cancer surgery is complicated by his congestive heart disease and diabetes. His will likely be the next family funeral. Jim, a lifelong Mormon, has served missions and fulfilled callings up to and including stake president. While his children were discussing plans for serving couple missions upon retirement, Jim told George privately: “I hope there is something beyond this life.”

Jim, who is facing death, no longer knows beyond a shadow of a doubt. I have heard enough elderly Mormons express doubts about a next life to suspect that for most, hope replaces faith as their rendezvous with death approaches. The elderly are generally hesitant about expressing doubts—they surely don’t care to undermine the testimonies of their children and grandchildren. Doubts slip out in one-on-one conversations—never in public discourse.
Even General Authorities who are credited with having a “sure witness” do everything possible to preserve their lives during terminal illness. Calling this life “only a small part of eternity” seems less convincing when it’s about to end.

End-of-life doubts may be less worrisome in faiths that don’t emphasize certitude as much as Mormons do. I wonder what the effect would be if those nearing the end of their mortal lives expressed their doubts openly. Would younger members doubt the validity of Church teachings or would they simply question the valiancy of the doubter?

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Comments on: "Celestial Charade" (2)

  1. Having cancer has made me look at death and the after life with a bit more interest than I have in the past. One reason I never share in Testimony meeting (and it is only one reason of several) is that I have never “believed beyond a shadow of doubt” anything in church. I have faith, I have hope, but not really knowledge. I don’t “KNOW.” I don’t think I am going to die of this cancer, however, if I do it is okay. We all die and we all have to die of something. I am not afraid but that doesn’t mean I will do anything to hasten my death. I want to spend more time with the children and grandchildren I have here because I don’t really know what is waiting for me on the other side. So, I will take what I know and when I get info that I am terminal, it will be okay because I have hope and faith. That is the best I can do and not whine about what can’t be changed. It I can change it – I will change it. But none of that is because of fear – that is what my faith and hope give me. But, of course, I still have doubts.
    It is what it is and no one gets out alive.

  2. Kathy–

    You have realistic faith with realistic doubts. I’m betting you will beat your cancer and spend many more years harassing your kids and loving your grandkids.

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